A young secondary experiences a sophomore slump
When the Chiefs traded up in the first round of the 2022 draft to take Trent McDuffie, we all expected big things. What we did not expect were for his later rounds classmates—Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson—to have about as big of an impact as the 21st overall pick in their rookie seasons.
Williams, a fourth-round pick out of Division II Fayetteville State, provided length on the outside of the Chiefs' defense that helped soften the blow of losing Charvarius Ward. Watson, a seventh-round pick, proved to have the clutch gene time and time again for the Chiefs in 2022. A 99-yard pick-six against the Chargers at home in Week 2 flipped a game that Justin Herbert was about to put away, and two playoff picks—one on Trevor Lawrence in the Divisional Round and one on Joe Burrow in the AFC Championship—helped salt away the Chiefs' conquest of the AFC.
McDuffie was sensational in his rookie season as well but did spend six weeks on the shelf with an injury he suffered in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals last season. All three of these players, as well as safety Brian Cook, figure to play a significant role in the Chiefs' defensive plans heading into 2023. But what if that doesn't go the way we envision?
All of these players have the ability to take huge steps forward in 2023, but there is one thing that showed up in Super Bowl LVII that could prove to be a precursor to sophomore slumps for all 3: the big play. Last season, Jalen Hurts passed for over 300 yards 5 times. He surpassed the mark in Weeks 2 and 3 against Minnesota and Washington (who missed the playoffs), and then again in Week 15 against Tennessee and Week 17 against the Chicago Bears, both of whom also missed the playoffs. The fifth time? in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In the process of racking up 304 yards with a 71.1% completion percentage, Hurts hit both AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith on plays of 40 yards or more. Sure, the Eagles have weapons all over the field and can hurt you in a lot of ways, which make a defense susceptible to the big play happening from time to time, but Hurts only had 3 completions all season longer than the 2 to Brown and Hurts in the Super Bowl.
With the firepower in the AFC in 2023—Josh Allen and the Bills, Joe Burrow and the Bengals, Justin Herbert and the Chargers to name a few—a Chiefs secondary that gives up the big play could be a catastrophic issue that can't be overcome.